Children learn what they live, so if they live with you paying it forward, they are fairly certain to follow.
The most important lessons we teach our children will have little to do with math, reading or science. They will have nothing to do with how to darn a sock, scramble an egg, or tie a pair of shoes.
Whether they are Honor Roll students, or barely passing will have little impact on the future of our children, if we do not explain the virtues of being humble, polite, compassionate and generous human beings.
From an early age, children must realize the importance of paying it forward with volunteerism, tithing, visiting senior citizens in nursing homes and honoring those who have or are currently serving our country to protect the freedoms we frequently take for granted.
From Thanksgiving through Christmas, our nation is awash on ways to help those less fortunate. Coat drives, toy drives, food drives and care packages for the troops serving overseas.
Then we return to our normal lives and forget that the need is there 365 days a year.
The economic crisis that virtually crippled our nation has left many victims still struggling to recover. Local food banks, soup kitchens and Meals on Wheels programs across the United States are having difficulty fulfilling requests for assistance.
Animal shelters have turned away both stays and people surrendering pets, due to lack of space and resources.
It is important to note, that paying it forward does not have to come in the form of a check.
In truth, providing your child with an opportunity for paying it forward can be a very personal and meaningful experience.
Try paying it forward by working on a project together.
Create care packages for those in need.
Spring-cleaning and family gatherings for Easter and Passover may provide an opportunity to launch a new tradition of assembling a monthly Care Package, spearheaded by your child.
By planning the activities several months in advance, your child can solicit assistance from neighbors, family and friends as you gather for holidays, graduations, Mother’s Day or family reunions.
Grab a calendar and create 10-12 themed activities such as Memorial Day or Fourth of July, Summer Barbeque, Back to School, Animal Rescue, Halloween, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Remember to include Sundries for Nursing Home Residents, Clothes for Children of Low- income Families and create one box designed to for a man or woman serving in the military, as well.
Once you have selected the theme for your ‘paying it forward‘ projects, have your child create a list of items he or she wishes to include in the package.
Take your child to the grocery store and have them speak to the store manager about reserving some sturdy boxes to hold the contents. You may be pleasantly surprised that if asked, the manager may contribute a gift card to help with your paying it forward project.
Then, email neighbors, friends and family, asking them to set aside some of the items needed to fill the boxes. Assign a specific theme to each participant and suggest coupon sites that may offset the cost to purchase unused items.
Limit spending to $10 or less, per person. Use resources already available to fill the boxes:
- Paying it Forward with towels, sheets, small rug remnants and blankets:
Animal shelters are in desperate need of these items. Many communities have cut funding to shelters: kitty litter, animal toys, bottled water, canned and bagged food will help save the life of a stay pet. Coupons are usually available; before making a donation, call your local shelter to see if they have specific items that they prefer.
- Paying it Forward with cardigan sweaters, afghan’s, sample sized toiletries and homemade artwork:
Lift the spirit of a nursing home resident: a gently worn sweater or lap blanket will help shield a resident from the chill of air conditioning. Sample sized body sprays, after shave lotions, tissues, hand creams, lipsticks or lip balms and sugar free candies are available at most dollar stores. With help from friends, assemble several packets in cellophane goodie bags and include a hand drawn note card.
- Paying it Forward with back to school supplies:
Most big box retailers feature the best prices for back-to-school items in July and August. Domestic violence shelters, group homes and local community centers have lists of clients who cannot afford the even the most basic items: crayons, notebooks, loose leaf paper, rulers, backpacks, pencils, pens and binders. Watch for sales; have your child pick out a backpack for a child the same age. Make the donation personal by having your child add a note.
- Paying it Forward with coats and clothes found after you clean out the closets:
Instead of dropping the donations in a bin, make an appointment to visit a shelter with your child. Bag the used clothing by size and gender. Assemble a box of out-grown board games, puzzles (with all the pieces), dolls, toy trains, or books. Donation of cleaned car seats and booster seats may be accepted as well (check in advance). Most organizations will not accept stuffed animals.
- Paying it Forward with food drives:
Food pantries operate 365 days a year. They are always in need of canned foods, coffee, pastas, rice, beans, juice, crackers and other non-perishable items. Grocery store gift cards of any denomination may be included, but should be packed separately and given to shelter administrators to be used at their discretion.
- Paying it Forward with care packages for the troops:
The USO suggests creating packages with items not readily available overseas. These include toothbrushes, toothpaste, shower shoes, shower caddies, shaving gel, shampoo, deodorant, mouthwash and baby wipes.
Food items include sports bars, crackers, cookies, beef jerky, microwaveable popcorn, chicken noodle soup, Crystal Light®, Gatorade®, Bigelow Tea® and a coffee pot with coffee packets; non-food items include books, board games, playing cards or even used video games.
The USO also suggests themed packages such as sports equipment including: a putting green and portable putting set, volley ball and badminton set, horseshoes, Frisbees, footballs, flag football belts, nerf balls, soccer balls and a magnetic dartboard.
They also request items that appeal to the artistically and musically inclined, including sketch pads, colored pencils, crochet book and yarn, music books, a keyboard and acoustic guitars.
Again, have your child create a message to be included with the care package. Request a letter back from the recipient. Imagine the excitement when that letter arrives!
Remember to let your child be involved with every step of each paying it forward care package project, from selecting a charity and assembling the package to delivery to the charity or post office for mailing overseas.
Remind him or her that however modest the donation, it will be appreciated. Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”